Linda Sarsour has become a popular name in progressive politics as of late, as she was one of the co-founders and organizers behind the Women's March, undoubtedly one of the most important protests in recent American memory. While this is a worthy cause to support, some of Sarsour's recent statements should cause us to step back before we idolize her as a progressive figure. She has taken inflammatory positions regarding critiques of Islam, as well as attacking journalists for pointing out offensive and inconsistent tweets. I'm not here to demonize her as a person or mis-characterize her views, but I do think fellow liberals need to let down their knee-jerk defense and evaluate her behavior rationally.
2017 has been a year of political ups, downs, conflicts, protests, and scandals. One of the most prominent moments occurred just after the inauguration of President Trump. The day after the inauguration, millions across the US took to the streets to protest the President’s remarks towards women as well as what they stated were anti-women policies; this mass gathering was organized as the Women’s March. The model of the Women’s March became the template upon which most of the future protests in the Trump era, like the travel ban protests and the Science March. One of the co-founders and organizers of this event was Linda Sarsour, and the ground-breaking protest propelled her onto the national stage.
She was quickly embraced by many figures on the left, including Bernie Sanders. She championed many anti-Trump causes while also speaking out on her most passionate issue, the Palestinian people. Many on the left regard her as a champion of feminism and progressive issues, but as with many other figures who have come to national prominence; being on the national stage comes with national scrutiny.
This all came to a head last week when the Women’s March Twitter account posted a tweet honoring the birthday of Assata Shakur. Shakur, for those who don’t know, was convicted in 1977 as an accomplice in the murder. of New Jersey State Patrol Officer Werner Foerster. Foester had pulled over Shakur, who was in the car with a few others, on the New Jersey Turnpike; this quickly ended in an exchange of gunfire where Foerster was killed. Shakur and the trooper accompanying Foerster were injured. New Jersey law stated that an accomplice to a murder can be tried and convicted with an equal charge and sentence to the actual killers themselves, and Shakur was subsequently sentenced to life in prison. In 1984, however, she escaped and fled to Cuba where she was given asylum. She remains on the FBI’s most wanted list.
Clearly the fact that the Women’s March account would choose to honor this person was shocking, and many people, including journalists like Jake Tapper and Joe Scarborough called the account out for it. Even people who ardently supported the Women’s March seemed dismayed that this movement would choose to honor a convicted cop-killer.
But the Women’s March account doubled-down and, while tepidly saying that they didn’t agree with her “tactics”, they went on to praise her for her anti-racism work, which is absurd; the reason people know her name is because of the crime she committed. Sarsour, on her personal account, went a step further and accused Jake Tapper of joining the alt-right in mocking her. Anyone who’s ever watched Tapper knows that this is a nonsensical accusation.
And this isn’t the first time she’s made inflammatory statements. In reference to Ayaan Hirsi Al (and Brigitte Gabriel), an ex-Muslim who grew up in Somalia and regularly speaks on the violent aspects of Islamic fundamentalism, Sarsour wished she could “take their vaginas away” (referring also to Brigitte Gabriel); which is a stunning thing to say given that Ali had suffered female genital mutilation in her home country.
While her opinions on Israel and the Palestinian conflict are controversial, I will leave those off since there are legitimate disagreements on both sides. But just by these statements alone, I believe fellow liberals should rethink their support for her or at least demand that she apologize for and retract her statements.
Look, we need figures in America who serve as positive symbols for Muslim-Americans, especially in light of some of President Trump's harsh policies. In fairness to Sarsour, she has certainly given a voice to many Muslims and other groups across America, thanks to the Women's March. But blindly defending her comments as a knee-jerk reaction against conservatives despite some of her statements is extremely damaging to the progressive cause. And given the dire straits we are in with the Trump administration, we absolutely cannot afford that.